WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Leave it to John Dingell to bring left and right together, if only for a little bit.
Thursday's fete for the longest-serving member of Congress ever saw Republican House Speaker John Boehner choking up, high-ranking members of both parties hobnobbing, and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius singing "Stop! In the Name of Love," with Motown's Mary Wilson.
As parties go in the Capitol these days, this one in Statuary Hall for the 86-year-old congressman wasn't too shabby.
Boehner, R-Ohio, began by saying he counted Dingell, a Democrat from Dearborn, Mich. - who last Friday hit his 20,997th day of service, surpassing the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd's record - among his friends.
Unveiling a portrait of Dingell from his days as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the speaker, who is known for getting emotional at such moments, choked up a little. He told Dingell that two Republican friends - the current committee's chairman, Fred Upton of St. Joseph, Mich., and a former one, Joe Barton of Texas, insisted on renaming the committee's meeting room for Dingell, who was perhaps its most renowned leader.
"His milestone comes with all kinds of markers ... but you can't really put a number on what it means to enjoy the admiration and respect of your peers," said Boehner.
Congress wasn't in session last Friday, so the celebration was deferred to Thursday. Dingell, who succeeded his father in Congress, has served southeastern Michigan since Dec. 13, 1955, winning 30 elections. Though he has made no announcement about his future, he is doing everything needed should he decide to run again in 2014.
A liberal icon, he has remained a defender of certain conservative values, too - such as the right to bear arms. And while he has been a thorn in the side of many a Republican administration, he also has counted among his allies members of both parties, leaving his mark on issues from Medicare and the Civil Rights Act to the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and 2010's Affordable Care Act.
Vice President Joe Biden, speaking to Dingell and the audience at Thursday's ceremony in the shadow of the statue of civil rights icon Rosa Parks, said: "It's not an accident the president gave you the first pen that signed (into law) the health care bill."
Dingell had been pushing for an expansion of health care all throughout his career. Biden said it was part of the respect Dingell has always shown for people, especially working people, and how he has always been able to retain his dignity amid the rough and tumble of Washington politics in the name of getting legislation passed.
"With you," Biden said, "it's all about the possibilities."
Sebelius, President Barack Obama's health secretary, looked on, as did UAW President Bob King. With the assembled Democratic figures and their allies were many Republicans: Former Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld, himself a former House member, and the last Republican U.S. senator from Michigan, former Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham.
Dingell - who began by thanking his family and wife, Debbie, a well-known force of her own in Michigan and national Democratic politics - didn't let the moment get by him either. Showing the signs of a body wracked by age, he still took to the podium to use his speech to call for greater unity in a fractured Capitol.
"Congress means coming together," he said. "I think we, because of the pressure and the times, have forgotten this."
To an audience that included the Senate's Democratic leader, Harry Reid, and its Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, he said it falls to a divided Congress to struggle to keep the U.S. whole.
"Preserving something of this kind is very difficult," he said.
On a lighter note, Mary Wilson of the Supremes sang "You Can't Hurry Love" and other tunes, enlisting the help of Dingell's wife, Pelosi, Sebelius and others on the iconic "Stop! In the Name of Love."
The celebration ended with a toast from Boehner to Dingell, "a true man of the House."
The room - as Dingell watched on - raised its glasses and voices, with a hearty, "Here! Here!"